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Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Hawaii trying to land
2004 biotech convention

By Russ Lynch


Hawaii tourism, government and technology business officials are trying to attract a high-tech convention to Honolulu in 2004 that they say is important not only for the 10,000 visitors it could attract but also for the potential investment it could bring to isle companies.

Other convention sites are also pushing hard in the intense lobbying and bidding process for BIO 2004, the annual convention of the Washington D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization. But an executive for the group said Honolulu has a good chance, thanks in part to the attendance at the recent BIO 2000 by a Hawaii delegation led by Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Patrick Kelly, the association's director of state government relations and grass-roots programs, told a breakfast meeting yesterday at the Hawaii Convention Center that Hawaii's biotechnology industry has shown remarkable progress. And state support for the industry is strong, he told the meeting sponsored by the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Kelly said it took five years of effort before New Jersey, home of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, enacted legislation to support biotechnology businesses. But after only a few months of work, the Hawaii Legislature this year passed bills to help the industry.

"You've built a very sound foundation," he said. Bringing the convention here would allow the state to showcase Hawaii's natural assets, he said.

Kelly said he visited Hawaii about nine months ago with a consultant as the group searches for a convention site for 2004.

David Watumull, executive vice president of Aquasearch Inc., said biotechnology -- mostly medical research and the development of health-enhancing food additives and pharmaceuticals -- already produces $300 million a year in revenues in Hawaii and employs 2,000.

He said producing microalgae, the base for an ever-widening range of natural products, is more economical in Hawaii than anywhere in the country, and perhaps the world. There are 30,000 species of microalgae and only a few have been tapped so far to make revenue-creating products, said Watumull, who is also chairman of the Biotechnology Council of the Hawaii Technology Trade Association.

Sandra Moreno, vice president of meetings, conventions and incentives at the HVCB, urged the executives at yesterday's meeting to use the HVCB's "kuhina" -- ambassador -- program to lobby their fellow biotechnology representatives across the country to bring the 2004 convention to the islands.

The 2-year-old program encourages local members of social and business associations to push their organizations to hold meetings in Hawaii. The kuhina program has resulted in more than $300 million in conventioneer spending in Hawaii, she said.

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